In a particularly shady corner of a French wheat field, a man with red hair and a stubby ear wildly waved his revolver at his own inner demons. These were no ordinary inner demons: perhaps the most extraordinary thing about them was that in this case, they were outer demons.
“Stay back!” he yelled, his breath reeking of absinthe. “BACK!”
“But Vincent, you know we’re right,” the taller demon chided, taking a step towards him. “It’s the only way.” Its efforts were rewarded with a slew of Dutch slurs. Fueled by rage and far too much alcohol, Vincent Van Gogh threw himself at the pair of demons, but they managed to jump out of the way just in time to allow the artist to careen into a convenient bale of hay.
“You’re not real! You can’t be real!”
“You know how to send us away. You know what you must do,” the shorter demon whispered with a voice as gentle as silk. “Won’t it be better to get some rest?” Vincent hesitated for a moment, pain etched into every wrinkle in his weathered face. He was still a young man but the sun, the drinking, and the smoking had not been kind to his fair complexion.
“No one loves you,” taunted the taller demon.
“And if they did...wouldn’t you just make things worse?” the other asked, sadness weighing on every word. “It’s time to rest.”
An hour later, a very bloody and disoriented Vincent Van Gogh stumbled out of the field and back to his home.
“Let me see...yes, he’ll be dead in a matter of hours,” the taller demon declared, pulling his hood down to reveal that he was, after all, just a tall man.
“Sir, protocol demands that we remain in uniform until we’re back at headquarters.” Their long black uniforms covered their entire bodies and were constructed in such a way that people could only see them if they allowed those people to see them. They weren’t sure how the technology worked, they only knew that it was one of those improbable but true things like airplanes or magnets.
“Laura, I have twenty years of experience in the field. I’m the best in the business. You worked very hard to secure a position as my apprentice. I think you can trust that if I decloak, it’s safe to do so,” he replied, smiling wryly. “Besides, it’s easier to see my watch this way.” Laura pursed her lips beneath her hood, but she had to admit that he had a point. If Randal thought it was safe to let his guard down, it almost certainly was.
“And you’re sure about your readings?” She checked her own watch, a digital piece with several whirring displays filled with numbers and letters that swirled by almost too quickly for her to read. Almost. “Mine are giving me a read of 70%.” Randal frowned and checked his own display again.
“My dear, I believe you are right. Well, well, and they said women were bad at math!” he laughed.
Laura rolled her eyes. How did Randal manage to be the most old-fashioned thing around when they were standing in a provincial French field in 1890?
“We’d better stick around until it equalizes,” she responded, though she was eager to go home. The sun was making her sweat in her uniform even though it was designed for comfort in all weather. Really, she knew she just wasn’t comfortable with the job yet. Convincing people (even the worst people in all of humanity) to kill themselves was a soul-crushing job. Luckily, she had banked her soul safely with The Company when she’d signed her contract. Despite that, a tingle of hesitation still tugged at the void where her soul should be.
“We did the right thing,” he reminded her, as if sensing her thoughts.
“He just seemed so...wretched.”
“Meglomaniac dictators often are,” he responded wisely. “When people are sick like that, they either lash out, or they lash in. Our job is to make sure they lash in.”
“Wouldn’t it be better to just help them get better?”
“Well that would be against the laws of time travel. We can’t bring future technology back to history.”
“Yes, we can. We come back and change history anyway, I don’t see why we can’t -”
“My dear child, we do this every time,” he said, exasperation dripping off of every word. “We aren’t changing history. We’re...smoothing history. Like sandpaper, evening out its rough edges. And we can only go back to the same place once, because of the delicate nature of the fabric of space and time. It’s practically cobweb. What happens if ‘helping’ doesn’t work? They’re a bunch of loonies, and besides, you know the government’s policies on helping the mentally ill.”
“Yes, yes, it’s morally wrong because handouts just encourage them to be more mentally ill,” she sighed. “I know that, it just seems...wrong.”
“You were in the top of your class. I was afraid of taking on a female apprentice. Women just aren’t good at this job, mostly because they take leave to do things like have babies and bleed and whatever else it is you women do. Keeps you distracted. When you’re distracted from work, you’re not giving your all to The Company. But you, Laura...you showed so much promise. This job is hard, even for men. But it’s especially hard for you....if you know what I mean,” he winked.
“That women aren’t as good as men,” he said, a puzzled expression on his face. “I thought I’d made that pretty clear.” Before she had time to blush at misinterpreting his comment, both of their watches beeped simultaneously. “Huh. Looks like it’ll be tomorrow instead. Strange.”
“But at least it shows 100%,” Laura pointed out. “That means we can get the hell out of here.”
“Indeed.” Laura slapped her hand over her watch, sighing gratefully as the wheat field wrinkled out of existence like tissue dissolving in water.
Randal may have been a bit backwards, but he proved to be right about the job getting easier over time. She found that with every passing mission and every paycheck, the morality of her job became clearer. She was doing this for humanity’s sake, to make the world a better place, to save lives, and of course, to earn her GS 13.
Within a mere matter of months, Laura had made quite a name for herself as the most ruthless apprentice on staff. No one could match her ability to stare a man (or woman) down and say in the sweetest, most sincere voice that humanity would be better off without them. It didn’t hurt that it was easy to be sincere about that kind of thing when it was true. Randal Randalson and Laura Pringly were hands down the most badass, efficient, depressing team The Company had, so it was no surprise when they were called to The Office for a special assignment.
The Director stared across his shabby metal desk for a few minutes in silent contemplation. Randal was unperturbed, but Laura wondered if perhaps she had been a bit too thorough in the last job; they had managed to convince their subject to take himself out when he was only 13. Of course, he was a 13 year old boy king who was about to slaughter thousands of innocent people, but suicidal teenagers were a sticky subject for some people regardless of how much they might deserve to be throttled (and in fairness, approximately 90% of teenagers fell into that category). Finally, he spun around in his fancy new office chair and jumped to the floor.
“Randalson and Pringly. Randalson and Pringly. That’s all I hear about, all day long. Nice work on that kid, by the way. Most of our men don’t have the balls to do it, but Randalson and Pringly! When we realized what needed to be done there, we knew you were the ones for the job.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“It’s a true honor, sir.”
“Yes, I expect it is,” he chuckled. “Now! We have...a very special assignment for you. It’s one of the utmost importance.” Laura leaned in despite herself, rapt with attention. Randal was better at keeping his composure, but he was equally excited. “Your mission: Travel back to Germany in 1916. Hitler’s in the hospital, kids, let’s put him in the ground.” Randal winced at being called a kid, but Laura’s eyes shined with excitement.
“Adolf Hitler?” she whispered. “Really?”
“No, Paula Hitler,” he said sarcastically. “YES, Adolf Hitler, you’re going to go get Adolf Hitler to kill himself. So...do you think you’re up for this?”
“Yes sir!” Laura exclaimed without hesitation. Randal raised an eyebrow at her and nodded.
“Oh I’m up for anything with Laura...if you know what I mean,” he winked. Laura and The Director both stared at him. “You know...that I find her to be a very capable partner. Why are you looking at me like that?”
Within hours, they were walking into Beelitz military hospital, ready to convince a wounded WWI soldier that the world would be better off without him and perhaps that he would be better off without the world. They found him lying in a simple hospital bed, doodling on the edges of his newspaper. “You were never very good,” Randal sneered at him. Adolf Hitler glanced up at them, then went back to his drawings.
“Morphine,” he mumbled. “It’s just the morphine.”
“The morphine didn’t make your art horrible. You make your art horrible,” Randal continued.
“Besides...what does art even matter, in a world torn apart by war?”
“This is all for nothing. Germany will lose.” At that moment, a beautiful blonde bombshell of a nurse sauntered in holding a plate stacked high with cake and candles.
“We have a very special birthday! Today it’s Corporal Hitler’s birthday! Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!” Laura and Randal stared at each other.
“But it’s not my birthday!” Hitler protested. Laura was quick to turn it around.
“They don’t care enough about you to remember when your birthday is?” she whispered. “But who can blame them…”
“Someday your name will mean ‘failure,’” Randal added. “Even if it’s not your birthday, you’re still aging poorly.” Despite their efforts, Adolf Hitler remained in a good mood, as everyone enjoyed the cake even if someone had been mistaken about the day, and he was a hero to the entire ward.
“Bad luck,” Randal shrugged. “It happens sometimes.”
“Let’s skip a week. I don’t want to wait around.”
“We’re not supposed to skip…” Before she could stop him, he’d made the jump and she had to follow. “You’re going to die in here. Right in this bed. And you should. You’re a failure. Oh there you are.”
“Yes, yes, this is where I always am,” Hitler grumbled. “Every day.”
“Oh this is good,” Laura said appreciatively. “Yes, you know what you need to do.” Her eyes caught on a pile of letters next to his bed. While Randal heckled Hitler, she surreptitiously shuffled through them, looking for something to use against him. “Randal,” she hissed.
“Randal? I’m Adolf! Damn this morphine.” She ignored him and grabbed Randal’s arm, pulling him out of Hitler’s earshot.
“He was accepted to Vienna’s art school,” she said, shoving the letter at him.
“Huh. We should get rid of this.”
“Well yeah! Someone’s got to be doing this on purpose. Did The Company send someone to test us? Do they do things like that?”
“We don’t know that it’s on purpose.”
“Have you seen his art?” she asked.
“Good point. Alright. Let’s shake them, then. Come on.” He reached over and set her watch forward by two years.
Their third attempt went massively wrong when, in the midst of convincing him that the mustard gas had blinded him forever and life wasn’t worth living without sight, his blindness was miraculously cured.
Their fourth attempt failed when Hitler prematurely found out that he was being awarded an iron cross.
Their fifth attempt was thwarted when Eva Braun gave him a puppy, seemingly out of nowhere.
“Someone is doing this on purpose!” Laura shouted.
“No no, puppies never do anything on purpose,” Hitler cooed as he cleaned up after the puppy’s mess.
“It’s starting to look that way,” Randal agreed. “Maybe if…” suddenly, Laura felt a tug at her waist. Without warning, she was whisked away. Her watch beeped frantically at her. The emergency protocol! Why were they being pulled home? But when she was firmly on the ground again, her head solidly planted on her neck and all of her fingers and toes intact, she realized that they weren’t home. They were still in Germany, in fact. According to her watch they were in Hitler’s bunker and they had gone forward to 1945.
“Jesus,” she whispered. “What the hell happened.” Tanks were rolling through in the distance, and there was Hitler, huddled in fear. Randal was standing dazed next to him, looking as confused as a man dressed from head to toe in black robes can look.
“Mama, oh I want Mama,” he whimpered. Laura thought for a moment. She may as well finish the job, as botched as it was. Who knew what would happen if she didn’t?
“I’m here, Adi.”
“Mama? Oh Mama!”
“I never loved you, Adi,” she whispered. “Never.”
“Mama?” he trembled. “Mama, is that you?”
“You are such a disappointment, Adi. What happened to my little boy?”
“I’m sorry, oh Mama, I’m so sorry,” he wept.
“Adolf…” Eva said doubtfully.
“It’s time. Oh God, it’s time,” he trembled. Laura’s watch beeped three times.
“100%” she murmured.
“A little late,” Randal frowned.
“How did this even...wait a minute.” Out of the corner of her eyes she noticed a floating, disembodied head. With lightning speed, she dashed after it. The head yelped and turned, zipping away down the bunker hall. Shots rang out behind them, but Laura ignored it and with a mighty leap tackled the air below the head...except that the air was indeed quite solid. She wrestled with the invisible mass, grabbed a hunk of cloth below the head’s neck, and ripped away a uniform much like her own. Instead of black, this one was white, and apparently very fragile. “Who the hell are you? Are you the one who’s been messing with us?”
“Well...yes,” the other time traveler said, blushing in embarrassment. “You weren’t supposed to see me.”
“You insist on taking your damn hood down,” a voice grumbled gruffly behind him. “Let go of the idiot and we can all be on our way.”
“It gets really hot! You know what I mean, right?” the time traveler asked.
“Oh I know what it’s like to get hot under those robes,” Randal winked. The time traveler stared at him quizzically. “You know...gets all sweaty in there, and such. Because of the running and the sun and all. Not to mention the long sleeves. It should be a crime to make people cover their heads and faces in the summer.”
“It’s spring,” Laura said wryly. “Now explain yourself, or I swear to God I will shoot you.”
“Whoa whoa okay. So my name’s Chip. My partner, you can hear him over there somewhere, is Monk. And we’re time travelers, like yourselves. Except we’re not idiots.”
“You’re excused. You can’t help being an idiot, it’s just what all you 23rd centurians are like,” Chip grinned. “You go and you make messes and we need to go clean them up. Oh sure, sometimes you do something that’s okay. No one’s going to miss despotic Van Gogh.”
“But despotic Hitler is pretty damn essential. Show some fucking respect, Chip.”
“Relax, it’s not a matriarchy yet for them.”
“Wait, you came back through a different rift? Didn’t you know this time had already been visited?” Randal asked.
“Of course we knew,” Monk snapped.
“But the universe...space, time...it’s tulle! Voile! You can’t just come back here again,” Randal exclaimed, aghast.
“It’s more like a low-viscosity rayon,” Chip cheerfully explained.
“You’re practically in the stone age of time travel,” Monk said derisively. “It would be entirely inefficient to even attempt to explain this to the likes of you. Trust us, we’re fine. You idiots almost made a huge mistake. The world needs Hitler. Stop messing around with things you don’t understand. Come on, Chip.” Before Laura could stop him, Chip activated his watch and blinked out of existence. From the peace and quiet, she surmised that Monk was gone as well.
Laura and Randal stared at each other, unsure of what to do with this information. So there were time travelers in the future, and in the future apparently people needed to correct her mistakes. And...apparently there was a matriarchy.
“I’d like to put my penis inside of your vagina,” Randall said with a wink, breaking the silent reverie.
“I’m sorry, sir. You just don’t have the right paperwork for that,” she replied. The future couldn’t possibly get here fast enough.
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